Everyone has experienced the "no-response" response from the big corporations. Phone them, email them, fax them....and all messages vanish into a black hole of emptiness, with no one knowing about their origin, their existence, their importance....and you have the scenario that defines contemporary business, especially in the service sector.
We all grew up knowing our family doctor, our lawyer, our accountant, our car's mechanic, our insurance agent, our dentist, our kid's teacher and the operator of the preferred gas bar where we filled the tank in our cars. And the first line response personnel in each of those offices/organizations knew us and answered our calls or appearances with a smile, a listening ear and a deft triage decision about how to proceed although they never over-stepped with answers 'above their pay grade'.
There was a kind of fabric to our existence, a trust even with price comparisons, and a degree of ease and comprehension of at least how we might find answers when we needed them, While the level of "education" may not have reached the kind of "market data" or even the diagnostic skills and access to a bank of information respecting the patient, the client, the car or even the insurance policy options, we were engaged, served, respected and even honoured in our pursuit of customer/client/patient SERVICE.
Back in the mid-eighties, while working in Public Relations and Marketing at a local community college, I had the opportunity to host a "teleconference" from a southern university, in which two business professors, authors of a text entitled "Service America", told audiences across North America not only how important the "service" component of their businesses/professions is but also how to reach new levels of excellence in the provision of that service.
It is not rocket science to answer the phone, to read the emails, to surf the texts or even to schedule time in a manner that accounts for both those files/customers/patients/clients that require extended time allocation, but also for those "walk-in's" who present for the first time, or for a modest need/request.
Human engagement, of the kind that formed communities through their multiple encounters among people whose status never interfered with the transactions, and even whose transactions themselves did not define the experience.
There is a profound difference between completing a transaction, collating the sum of those transactions, mining those transactions for their exclusive benefit to the organization's growth and profit potential (what additional 'products' could we unload on which prospect we already service?) and a human interaction that sees, hears, acknowledges and even wants to know the person seeking service. There is a profound difference between a focus on the profit potential of the company as a measure of "my" contribution and thereby potential for notice and promotion, and an authentic interest in, commitment to and delivery of a meaningful, purposeful, engaged and mutually beneficial exchange with the client.
The reduction of our working lives to the primary service of our careers and thus our employers results inevitably in our shaping our performance to those goals and thereby to the performance objectives set by our "masters" who give us the direction and the training and the reinforcements to perform as their pawns.
And the atrophy of the notion of relationships between the professional provider and the recipient is not only a signature of our culture; it is a sign that the "suits" have become our masters. And we have not only witnessed this change; we have essentially enabled its swallowing up too many of our ordinary experiences.
And the elimination of our being known and valued and respected has been replaced by our "preferential choices" as data for those service providers to use in their insatiable appetite for more profits and their pursuit of those profits.
A few months ago, for example, I surfed the web for a product that was not available in local stores, only to find, following my search, that ads for that product were popping up in my research for information on public issues. After a purchase, the web jumps into my face offering after-market purchases that complement the initial purchase as if not only have I been reduced to a "target market" rather than a human being, but so has the source of those ads.
We as individuals, are much more, more complicated and more interesting and more demanding than anything that can be reduced to a business transaction, a cheque, or a card insertion, tap or swipe.
We are much more than a tooth ache, an abdominal pain, a soldier trying to march to the legal requirements of a jurisdiction like a province, or a country or even a municipality that sets some mutually beneficial rules and guidelines.
We need insurance, for example, in order to protect us from catastrophies beyond our control and the costs of cleaning up those incidents. And in the process of filling that need, we also need the few minutes of a service agent's time who may not always be seeking another sale. Service cannot and must not be reduced to the provider's pursuit of additional sales. Service, when provided as a discreet provision, can and may lead to a gestalt that the customer might actually want to do additional business with that provider. Service, however, as merely another opportunity to make a sale, is a perversion of that service.
The abuse of power when viewed in so many situations, is cause for alarm, even for legal action. However, that abuse is never applied to the organizations providing clients with service, only the individual doctor, lawyer, dentist who may inadvertently make some error. Corporations are not being held accountable for their abominable disrespect of their clients/customers....the only reason for their existence. The needs of the investors in the corporation have come to trump the needs and expectations and the persons whose needs have created the corporations in the first place.
We have morphed the corporation from a service provider to a glutton whose appetite for profit and thereby reduced costs (making fewer people work longer and faster to produce more profit, without regard to the working conditions of those serfs). And those corporations are not only eager and willing to swallow our cash, but they are also willing and eager to swallow the people working for them, as if they were nothing more than "raw materials" in the production process of a factory.
Labour has been gutted by the linked forces of governments and corporations, the silencing of the lambs/innocents whose ancestors fought and even died to guarantee some respectability for the workers, who were being exploited by their employers. Now even client base is being slapped in the face with the back of the corporate hand, as if without the power of association, and without the power of embarrassment, and without the power of a consumer protection provider, and certainly without the protection that once was expected and often came from governments (now reduced to merely those incidents that cause injury or death, exempt as they are from the scrutiny that would attend the kind of expectation that accompanied our small communities where everyone knew where to get respect as a consumer.
And there are mountains of deficits to our corporate culture: the cold shoulder, the recorded phone message, the disinterested and apathetic front-line worker, the lost file, the lost email, the lost fax, and the failed transaction....but not enough to bring the corporations down. In the big picture, however, our losses are even more significant.
They include a loss of something we might call community, or even shared expectations, shared needs, and the meeting of those legitimate needs, the alienation of humans not only from families, but also from their neighbours, and the people with whom they interact as customers/consumers/clients/patients.
A family doctor, now literally an artifact of history, cannot and will not be replaced by a computer file stuffed with some numbers about our health condition. We will always need a trained professional to see into and beyond those numbers to a gestalt of our person, our lifestyle and our capacity to commit to our own health.
Our alienation and our disconnect from the world represented by the corporation, and the larger the corporation the more profound is the alienation (for the simple reason that only our cash/cheque/purchase/contract matter to the provider).
Removing the human contact, the human interest, and the human engagement from our transactions, in the service of our idols: "profit", "dividends", "promotions", "attention", and "business growth"....really all substitutes for the "dollar".....has reduced our culture to the jungle of Darwinian survival and now we all wonder why our health budgets are exploding, our police and social service budgets are empty and starving for funds, our libraries are closing and our casinos and digital gambling outlets are booming.
And we are both victim and enabler of our own reduction....victim as described, and enabler by continuing to act as if we have no power to reverse this wave of insult.